In an age of all out social war over issues like abortion, this is an attempt at a fair look at the debate. It’s an attempt to not shoot missiles at the other side, hoping the same can be done in return.
The debate about abortion hinges around several key disagreements:
- When is a fetus considered a human? (alternative wording: when does a fetus have a soul?)
- Women’s rights (in tension with baby/fetus’s rights)
- “Birth control” abortions & extreme cases like rape, incest, death of the mother, etc.
I am a man and will never know what it’s like to be pregnant. When I have sex, I do not have to take into consideration that it might make me pregnant for 9 months, with a baby to care for and nurse thereafter. I also acknowledge the way women have been abused by men throughout history in macro and micro ways. My goal is to be as objective as possible and as sympathetic as possible to both women and babies. It seems like the pro-life view is “babies only” and the pro-choice view is “women only.” It’s probably more convenient for both sides to think that way, and is one of the reason there is such little common ground. I hope we can care and talk about both women and babies. Women should have the voice on what happens to women, but men and women have equal voices on what happens to babies, for babies cannot speak for themselves.
When is a fetus considered a human?
A popular pro-life view is that life begins at conception. (“Life” = the soul begins at conception; the baby is a human being at conception)
A popular pro-choice view is that life begins once the baby is viable, once it is able to live in the outside world independent of its mother. (22-27 weeks)
Let’s throw both of these out as arbitrary conclusions for right now. Yes, both can be argued for, and argued for passionately as they usually are! But they are also both discussion killers. Let’s start by saying, “We don’t know when a fetus becomes a soul.” Because, in truth, we don’t know. This will sound a little crude, but we can all agree that a pile of sperm and an egg are not a soul. And we can all agree that when a baby comes out of the birth canal, it has a soul. So somewhere in between those two events, it becomes a soul-filled human being with accompanying equal rights as a human.
Pregnancy Tracking Websites for Moms
Since I’m a man, I’m going to defer to women here. There are lots of pregnancy websites and mobile apps out there, created by women, for women, that help a woman track her pregnancy. I just picked a random one with the help of Google (Kaiser Permanente).
The women who make these websites and the pregnant mothers who are using them obviously believe their 5 week fetus is a baby, a human being. You don’t fall in love with tissue. Women track their whole pregnancies this way, with these websites offering cute size comparisons along the way like “Your baby is the size of a blueberry…,” “Your baby is the size of a fig…” Yes, a fig. Some couples start giving their growing child a nickname to go along with one of these size comparisons during these phases that ends up sticking.
My wife had a miscarriage when the baby was at 7 1/2 weeks. It was her first pregnancy. That was six years ago and she recently told me she thinks about and mourns for that baby every single day. She also expects to see that baby in heaven someday, and tells our living children the same.
How hurtful it is to women who mourn the miscarriages of their lost babies when the pro-choice movement tells them they did not lose a baby, but only some tissue. Like it’s the equivalent of getting your appendix removed. This is not coming from the perspective of a man, it is straight from the mouth of my wife, and on behalf of many women she knows who have had miscarriages in their first trimesters, who will always live with this void. I am a man, but I am allowed to loudly echo the voices of women, standing up for them and with them.
The viability of baby away from mother determines human status
According to a 2015 New York Times article, a baby can be viable at 22 weeks at the earliest. Pro-choice advocates often use the viability test to determine between if a baby is a fetus (non-human) or a human. While some babies aren’t viable until 27 weeks (thus at 26 weeks would be non-human), we’ll use the 22 week mark as our measure. With this measure, it means a 21 week baby (pictured) in the womb is a non-human fetus and not a human baby.
So back to our initial question of when a baby becomes a human being… The pro-choice position is that the 21 week old baby in the photo to the left is not a human, and thus can be terminated. This is different from killing a one-week old infant out of the womb because that infant is a human with rights. Keeping the humble position that we don’t know when a baby gets a soul / becomes human, assuming both “at conception” and “at viability” are arbitrary guesses, look at this photo and ask if this yawning, thumb-sucking, kicking bundle of intricate beauty and complex organs is a human baby or a non-human something else.
At the crux of the abortion debate is human rights. We all acknowledge a woman has rights, but we also all acknowledge that a woman or man do not have the right to kill another human (if we agree with the murder and homicide laws of our country). If a baby is a human, it must have rights; this is why people who kill their infants end up on the front page of the newspaper and in prison for many years. If it is a non-human, it does not have rights. With a mother and a baby’s rights, one cannot be superior over another, as this is the definition of any type of oppression: one using their power to gain advantage over one with less power.
Killing the child within a pregnant mother counts as homicide or manslaughter in 38 states
In 38 of our 50 states, if the child within a pregnant woman dies in a violent act against the woman, it is considered homicide or manslaughter. (If the mother dies too, it’s a double homicide) That’s because these babies are considered human beings by these 38 states. Yet they can still be aborted; no problem.
2/3 of those 38 states apply the homicide / manslaughter law to any length of the pregnancy, even the earliest stages, while the other third apply a number of weeks when these laws take affect. See National Conference of State Legislatures website for details.
Statistics: different reasons given for abortions
A very strong factor in abortions to consider is women who have been raped, including incest, and women who would lose their lives if their baby was born. These are some of the strongest, and sometimes only, argument from the pro-choice perspective. These are extremely valid women’s rights concerns.
Less than 1/2% of the abortions surveyed are done because of rape. 4% are done because of physical health problems to the mother, though it’s not reported what percentage of that 4% would be fatal to the mother. 3% are done because of fetal health problems. It is an anonymous survey, which gives relative assurance that these women were being honest in their responses (thinking of the argument that a victim of rape would not want to share this information).
This leaves over 92% of abortions being done for reasons other than women’s rights or health rights. They are done for matters of convenience. Some call this using abortion as birth control. It also leaves 99.5% of abortions being done for reasons other than rape.
An interesting side note: a woman’s life is not guaranteed in abortion either. In 2012, four women died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortion; between 1973-2012, 427 women have died as a result of legal abortion (CDC).
The point of this is to say, can we not all agree that the 92% of abortions done as birth control need to be illegal? This does not include the strong moral case that a baby with a health problem (3%) has a right to live just as any other human does (that would take the percentage up to 95%). The strong arguments given by pro-choice advocates for women who have been raped or whose health is at risk simply to not apply to a vast majority of abortions. These are two separates arguments and they need two separate sets of support points given.
In cases of rape / incest
Here is a compromise some on the pro-life side will not want to make, but is necessary to protect women and to find some workable common ground we can hopefully agree to move forward on. I’m not saying I fully affirm this ethically, I’m saying it’s the closest thing to a workable solution that both sides could potentially agree on, based on their core arguments:
If abortion was made illegal, the morning after pill would need to be free and easy to access. This means no doctor’s visits, no prescription, and essentially no questions asked. This would address the majority of the rape cases. For the few that do not use this resource due to emotional trauma, or whatever other reason, last resort abortions for rape could be offered on a legal basis. The woman would not have to go to court for this, but they would need to submit paperwork to their doctor reporting the rape, where she would be encouraged, but not mandated, to press charges. If only ~0.5% of abortions are happening because of rape, and many of these could be addressed with free morning after pills, allowing this exception would reduce abortions from the 1-2 million number per year to possibly a few dozen.
In cases where the mother’s life is at risk
Another needed compromise: if a doctor (not a judge) deems a mother will die in childbirth, she can opt for an abortion.
Trusting Women to Choose
Here’s a meme I saw recently:
Two point to bring out here: One is that a baby doesn’t get a choice (again, the oppression argument of one with power usurping it over one without power). And two, not all people, men or women, can be trusted. Why do we fight so hard for a person’s right to choose when we see these same people (human beings, that is) making choices like:
No one is fighting for these women’s right to choose. No one should trust their judgment. This is not to say women can’t be trusted, but it would be foolish to say all women, or all men can be trusted. It’s why we have murder laws in the first place. It’s why we have any laws at all. Every murder is justifiable to the rationale of the person doing it, and they feel is their right to choose. Fighting for the right to choose in and of itself is not noble.
Regret and the Oppression of Women by Abortion
Many women regret their abortions (And I know many won’t don’t. But that doesn’t negate that many women do.). They wish they had not listened to their boyfriend or their parents or their doctor and they will never forgive themselves. They were oppressed by these outside forces to make a decision they would not have made otherwise. As a result they become strong pro-life advocates, supporting many women to choose life. They tirelessly volunteer in pregnancy resource centers and in advocating for legislative change. I’m not saying this is the case for all women who have had abortions, I am saying it is for many. Related: the “Roe” woman (Norma McCorvey) from Roe v. Wade is a huge pro-life advocate now and has committed her life to overturning Roe v Wade. These voices need to be heard as they strongly disagree with the idea that abortion liberates women and it’s not fair to women as a whole to lump them all together into one category.
Pro-Lifers Need to be more than Pro-Birth
I need to mention how I hate the two party political system. I hate how Christians typically have to choose between saving babies lives on one hand, and saving refugee and immigrant lives on the other, as well as other biblical principles of helping the poor. I’m not saying the Democrat politics for helping the poor are perfect, I’m only making the observation that usually that side of the aisle leans that way.
One of the main reasons people get abortions is because they are single moms in poverty and don’t have the means to raise a child. And a child in their lives would derail / compete with the little provision they have for themselves in getting their basic needs met. You can make the argument that they shouldn’t have chose to have sex outside of marriage. I do think this is a valid argument and should not be dismissed. But it’s also not that black and white. I am not in a position to describe the pressure a single woman in poverty might feel to have sex with a man for any number of feelings of security, acceptance, or just plain pressure from the man, or the many situations that could present themselves where birth control wasn’t used or didn’t work.
My point is, if systemic poverty didn’t exist, many less women would choose abortion. There are plenty of affluent women who choose abortion, and even married couples who choose it. But to the point I’m making here, if Pro-Lifers, specifically Christian Pro-Lifers took the Bible more seriously on the need to love and support the poor, there would be less abortions. This is not an argument to make abortion legal, but it’s a justified effort to point out some hypocrisy in the Church and on the Pro Life side in a lot of cases. There’s a new phrase that I’ve heard in some Christian circles and it is that, “We are Pro Life…from the womb to the tomb.” What this means is we are Pro Life for all of a person’s life. Not just a righteous effort to make sure a baby gets to be born (which is noble and needed), but then to wash our hands of the deadly circumstances that baby is born into. I’m not naive enough to think we can solve systemic poverty, but we need to be consistent in our biblical beliefs and righteous efforts. “Womb to the tomb” means we don’t want anyone to die: not babies, not moms, not refugees, not immigrants, not in euthanasia, not by the death penalty. Some would add war or gun control to this list, which are arguments with merit. While I know I’m throwing some powder keg topics out there, my hope is that we can stay focused here on Pro-Life advocates being more than Pro-Birth. It stains our testimony, it gives Pro-Choice people a valid argument against us, it’s not consistent, and it’s harming real people. And if we want to decrease abortions, an additional great way to do this is to do whatever we can as individuals and as a system to support vulnerable mothers and to change the tide of systemic poverty. There are many pregnancy resource centers and homeless shelters for pregnant mothers in my city, most of them run by Christians. They likely exist in your town too. You need to support these organizations. You need to consider your politics around these issues, as difficult / impossible as that is in a bipartisan system. You need to be personally vested in the lives of those who are living under these circumstances.
Author of Beyond the Battle: A man's guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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